Heartwarming story behind Cheshire Homes

It is 60 years since war hero Leonard Cheshire opened the doors of his home to a terminally ill friend. Emily Dennis looks at how this act of kindness resulted in the birth of a charity that has grown to help thousands of disabled people across the globe.

It is 60 years since war hero Leonard Cheshire opened the doors of his home to a terminally ill friend.

Emily Dennis looks at how this act of kindness resulted in the birth of a charity that has grown to help thousands of disabled people across the globe.

Decorated war hero Leonard Cheshire was living alone in an isolated mansion in 1948 when he discovered that a friend was dying of cancer and had nowhere to go.

Moved to take action, the Victoria Cross recipient offered to care for Arthur Dykes at his home Le Court in Hampshire.


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Soon after he found others coming to him for help and so founded the work which is today carried on through the Leonard Cheshire Disability organisation whose centres include The Grove Cheshire Home at East Carleton, near Norwich and Park House Hotel at Sandringham, near King's Lynn.

Today the charity, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary, supports more than 21,000 disabled people in the UK and a further 30,000 in 52 countries around the world. There are 80 Leonard Cheshire Homes in this country and 250 worldwide.

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Lord Cheshire was born in 1917 and spent his youth at the family home of Greywalls near Oxford.

He followed in his father's footsteps studying law at Oxford University and was commissioned into the reserve of the RAF as a student, starting what was to become a legendary war career.

He served almost without interruption in Bomber Command, flying a record of 100 bombing missions and was the most highly decorated bomber pilot of the second world war. At one stage he dropped a rank to take command of the famous 617 Squadron, the Dambusters.

Back as a civilian he set up a community for ex-servicemen and women at his home.

The scheme did not prosper and it was while he was living alone that he agreed to look after Mr Dykes and others.

The second Cheshire Home was opened a couple of years later in Cornwall followed by a third in Kent.

Each of these projects followed the same pattern: inspired and encouraged by Lord Cheshire himself, local communities came forward asking for help in setting up a service for themselves, they formed administrative committees, moved into whatever remotely suitable accommodation presented itself, and then set about fundraising for development.

By 1955 there were not only five services in the UK, but the first overseas project had also been started outside Mumbai in India.

In 1959 Lord Cheshire married Sue Ryder whose own international charitable work was well established.

Home for them and their two children was in the village of Cavendish in Suffolk, though both spent a large part of the year visiting their humanitarian projects worldwide.

Lord Cheshire died from the effects of motor neurone disease in 1992.

Today, the charity creates opportunities with more than 21,000 disabled people and their carers through over 150 services in the UK. Services provided by the organisation include care at home, residential services, respite care, day services, resource centres, independent living units, and services for people with an acquired brain injury.

Park House Hotel at Sandringham recently won the Access for All award 2008 in the Regional Enjoy England Awards for Excellence.

Front of house manager Sarah Shepherd puts the continuing success of the charity down to the quality of service it provides and its commitment to training.

“It is certainly an organisation to be proud to be working for,” she said. “They are very consistent in moving forward and diversifying. It is about putting people first and looking at their ability not their disability.”

The charity marked its 60th anniversary earlier this year with a thanksgiving service at St Paul's Cathedral.

Anniversary celebrations have been taking place throughout the year with events across the country.

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